Global Policy Forum

The Rains Do Not Fall on One Person's Roof


An interview* with Rudolf Amenga-Etego

Pambazuka News
August 26, 2004

Throughout the Global South, public goods or services such as water, electricity, education and health care have become the subject of privatization under a free market ethos pushed by international financial institutions. This ethos dictates that allowing private companies free rein is the only sure way to "development". The privatization of water is one of the hotly contested areas where activists who argue that water is a human right have squared up against water barons represented by powerful transnational companies. In Ghana, the National Coalition Against the Privatization of Water has fought against a major water privatization project backed by the World Bank in a campaign that has wide resonance for movements against water privatization worldwide. In this question and answer article, Rudolf Amenga-Etego from the National Coalition Against the Privatization of Water, answers questions from Pambazuka News.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: First of all, why is privatization of water wrong?

RUDY AMENGA-ETEGO: Water is about life. The saying that "water is life" cannot be more appropriate. Privatizing water is putting the lives of citizens in the hands of a corporate entity that is accountable only to its shareholders. Secondly, water is a human right and this means that any philosophy, scheme, or contract that has the potential to exclude sections of the population from accessing water is not acceptable both in principle and in law. Privatization has that potential because the privateers are not charities: they are in for the profit. Price therefore becomes an important barrier to access by poor people. Water is the collective heritage of humanity and nature. The rains do not fall on one person's roof so why should a few shareholders appropriate it to line their pockets? Water must remain a public good for the public interest.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: How does privatization - and the problems with access to water - impact on the lives of Ghanaians?

RUDY AMENGA-ETEGO: Market principles were introduced into water provisioning. A social service to tax paying citizens and their dependants suddenly became a business returning profits to a greedy few. Those who cannot afford safe water turn to unsafe sources such as rivers, ponds and dams for their supply. The health implications are obvious. Take the northern region of Ghana for example. As soon as the World Bank came in and introduced their demand driven policies, which meant safe water went only to the communities that paid for it, guinea worm increased drastically in the poorer communities who could not afford to pay. Ghana, which was on the way to eradicating guinea worm, over a span of only two years became the second most endemic country in the world, second only to the Sudan which we all know is at war with itself. Ghana is not at war, the blame is squarely on the head of the World Bank that arm-twisted the Ghanaian government into accepting the demand driven policy. The worst impacts have been on women and children (especially girls) who now walk long distances to access safe water from government and charitable institutions and individuals who let them draw water free.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What do you believe to be the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's agenda in pushing for the privatization of water?

RUDY AMENGA-ETEGO: These institutions were originally set up to help reduce poverty on earth and help nations withstand post-war difficulties and grow their economies. They have become instruments in the hands of the United States government acting through its treasury office and are used to compel non-industrialized countries to adjust their economies to suit the US hegemonic agenda. The other western powers profit by this (French, German, British and Dutch corporations are into the multi-billion water trade) and they therefore turn a blind eye. The WB and the IMF are also acting ideologically. Public bad, private good is the message ala the Washington consensus. They go at length to present the private as the "engine of growth". But it is basically robbing the people (public) to pay the private. For example, the WB gives a loan to the government of Ghana to expand and rehabilitate its water sector and then through the imposition of conditionalities compel the government to hand over the facilities to private multi-national companies to run for profit. The loan agreement then becomes a mere book transaction between the government and the WB - the private corporations go dancing to the bank to cash cheques, reaping where they have not sown.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: Your profile on the Goldman Environmental Prize (which you won earlier this year) website says: "The WB and IMF have offered to loan Ghana $400 million to rebuild the publicly owned and controlled water system - but with a catch: the Ghanaian government must abandon its practice of making wealthy and industrial customers subsidize the cost of water to poor communities. In addition, water must be sold at full market rates." With this in mind, what is the current status of water privatization in Ghana? Is it true that the government has backtracked on its privatization plans?

RUDY AMENGA-ETEGO: Not really. They wanted originally to hand over the water supply to two Multi-national corporations through a lease arrangement. The Coalition Against the Privatization of Water (CAP of Water) stopped that in January 2003. But the WB has a privatization fixation. So they have re-strategized on how to grab Ghana's water. They have changed the country director in Ghana. The new man is trying to get soft-speaking Ghanaians to accept a 5-year management service contract, which will roll back into a lease at the end of the term. The Lessor (the government of Ghana) may however terminate the service contract after two years and lease the assets out immediately. So you see, they are taking one step backwards in order to take two steps forward. Not yet UHURU!

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: If privatization of water is not the answer, what alternative model do you propose?

RUDY AMENGA-ETEGO: The alternative is simply an accountable public system. The privateers came and met a system -a public system - which they have sought to convince us is not working. But they have failed to convince us that privatization is better. Privatization globally has led to an increase in water tariffs beyond the pockets of most people, it has led to low water quality (private companies are always cutting costs in order to maximize profit) and like in Cochabamba in Bolivia; uprising, repression and death. For small rural communities, community owned and managed systems are worth trying. Some such systems exist in Ghana and are fairly successful. In Ghana we are also experimenting with a variant called "Public-Community Partnership". A state provider supplies metered bulk water to a community which does the distribution (retailing) to households and institutions with public standpipes for the poor (who are assessed and listed by a water and sanitation committee which also serves as the management board for the community). Through this arrangement the governance issues of accountability, transparency and participation are addressed.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: To what extent has the National Coalition Against the Privatization of Water linked up with other organizations in Africa fighting water privatization? How important do you see this in building a united front?

RUDY AMENGA-ETEGO: The links are under-development. Don't forget Africa is a huge continent - effective networking costs money but we are at it. We have links with a significant number of civil society groups in Africa. Our links with the Anti-privatization Forum in South Africa and ORCADE in Burkina Faso has been very useful. We had a Pan-African conference on the right to water in Accra in May 2003. A committee was set up under my interim stewardship to work towards a meeting in South Africa, which will set out an agenda for a Pan-African Network on Essential Services. We are working at it.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: How can activists in the rest of Africa support your cause?

RUDY AMENGA-ETEGO: It is not my/our cause. It is the cause of Africa, of all those at the screwing end of corporate globalization and US monoculture [Washington consensus]. The way to support is to start an anti-water privatization cell in your own backyard and then link up with us.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What strategies have you used in fighting water privatization that has been particularly effective?

RUDY AMENGA-ETEGO: A combination of actions or methods. Mass protest, leafleting, sign-on letters, petitions, and public awareness campaigns using radio, TV, and the print media. Also screening documentaries about struggles in other countries for mass viewing. We also organize seminars from time to time to review and upgrade our strategies.

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: You have been frequently jailed for your political activities. What motivates you?

RUDY AMENGA-ETEGO: Those who produce the wealth must share in its benefits. So long as a neighbour (neighbour here is not defined geographically) is denied water, electricity, education, healthcare etc because of his/her station in life I will remain in my trench!

About this Interview: This interview was conducted by email. Rudolf Amenga-Etego is the founder and campaign coordinator for the National Coalition Against the Privatization of Water in Ghana. In 2004 he won the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work against water privatisation. A full profile is available at



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